Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Reading



Rich and Pretty-Amazon Book ReviewIn this edition of Weekend Reading, a daughter uncovers shocking truths about her father, a Hemingway classic is deconstructed, and we learn that the country most fanatical about running is...(I won't ruin the surprise).

Sara Nelson: I'm looking forward to an interesting mix this weekend. Rich and Pretty is seeming like a smart novel about two bffs, one who is really rich and the other...well you get it. The other book near the top of my pile is Susan Faludi's, In the Darkroom. Faludi, of course, is the prizewinning journalist author of Backlash, one of the first books to look closely at women and media. This book is a more personal investigation into her father's story.

Erin Kodicek: I am going to dip into Everybody Behaves Badly by Leslie M.M. Blume, the story behind Ernest Hemingway's, The Sun Also Rises. This pivotal novel recounted the debaucherous time Hemingway and several rowdy and randy compatriots had when they went to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain in 1925. But more importantly, 'Sun' captured the essence of the Lost Generation. Blume brings this fascinating and turbulent time to life, and examines how Hemingway created his cult of personality.

Penny Mann: Even as a runner (and I use that word loosely) myself, I have never put much thought into which country is most obsessed with running.  And, I was still surprised to read that in Adharanand Finn's new book, The Way of the Runner, he poses the answer to this question and it's...Japan! The award-winning author of Running with the Kenyans spent six months immersed in Japan's running culture to experience and understand how the nation has become so running-obsessed. From national events to the marathon monks, I can't wait to read all about it this weekend.

If there is time I may change pace a bit and start in on Jessica Valenti's Sex Object. Valenti is known for her voice on women's issues and I have been a fan of both her brain and her writing for years. While I am eager to get into the new memoir, I also want to give it the time I can already tell it deserves.

Seira Wilson: This weekend I guess I'm planning to scare myself a little with two psychological thrillers--I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, which looks like a fast read and plays with identity, fear, and free will. Someone else in the office read it in one night and told me we have to talk as soon as I read it, which is exactly what I want to do when something is really, really, good. The other is Security by Gina Wohlsdorf--this one is a thriller with a killer. One who's picking off staff members one-by-one in the 24 hours before the opening of a new swanky resort. I may be sleeping with the lights on next week.

Adrian Liang: Two fascinating books are sure to keep me up late this weekend (that, plus watching Game of Thrones). Chuck Klosterman's But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past is at the top of my list—I'm interested in the long view he takes about what's happening today. I'm very much looking forward to being creeped out by This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society, by Kathleen McAuliffe, and learning new parasite anecdotes to share at dinner parties.



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And the Edgar Goes to...



Edgar Winner-Amazon Book ReviewThe foremost mystery and thriller writers in America donned their Sunday best on Thursday, to find out who would win an Edgar Award at a black tie banquet in New York City. Honoring the crème de la crème in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television, it was the 207th anniversary of the birth of the award's namesake, Edgar Allan Poe.

Congratulations to this year's winners:

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BEST NOVEL
 
In Let Me Die in His Footsteps, author Lori Roy wrests from a Southern town the secrets of two families touched by an evil that has passed between generations.
 

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BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
 
Winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a blistering exploration of identity, politics, and America.
 

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BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
 
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors.
 

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BEST FACT CRIME
 
Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil is the true account of one boy's lifelong search for his boarding-school bully.
 

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BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL
 
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards is a real-life detective story, investigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in a mysterious literary club transformed crime fiction.
 

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BEST JUVENILE
 
Footer Davis Probably is Crazy by Susan Vaught is a mystery that humorously and sensitively explores the precariousness and challenges of mental illness.
 

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BEST YOUNG ADULT
 
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis is a twisted gothic historical thriller for fans of American Horror Story.
 

To see the full list of nominees and winners, click here.



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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Wisdom of "Geek Parenting"



GekkParent-postDuring a gorgeous day in the middle of Emerald City Comic-Con, authors Stephen H. Segal and Valya Dudycz Lupescu sat down with me to talk about their new book, Geek Parenting, and the surprises they found as they surveyed the rich geek pop culture of books, comics, films, and television in order to find lessons for parents.

Amazon Book Review: Please tell me about Geek Parenting and what the book is about.

Stephen Segal (SS): Geek Parenting is not an activity book. These are ways to think about life with your children that we assimilated from geek culture stories about gods and aliens and monsters and epic quests. In Geek Parenting, there are lessons we take from relationships between fathers and daughters, and fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, and mothers and sons—and among families of different ethnic, gender, or cosmic species backgrounds.

As you were distilling geek culture into pieces of wisdom, did you have Aha! moments that surprised you?

Valya Dudycz Lupescu (VL): There were challenges in selecting the stories—those were aha moments. It was important for us to be as diverse as we could. There were challenges in finding diversity in films and television. We had to turn to literary and comic book sources to really find the examples we wanted.

SS: We definitely saw the current Hollywood diversity debate reflected in what we saw. There are plenty of characters of color in fantasy and science fiction. But when you ask the question, "How many of them on-screen have rich, thought-out backgrounds and family elements to draw on?," you quickly find out that the answer is not very many. The first entry in our book is about Commander Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Here's an example of a single dad who is a starship captain, and the lesson is about making sure you're taking the time out of your career to spend meaningful time with your child. That's a straightforward truth. But I don't think there's another character in geek culture that embodies it better than Ben and Jake Sisko—that's the core of their story. Unfortunately, that's also one of the few examples of an iconic on-screen Hollywood black science fiction character whose family is integral to the arc of the story.

VL: There were a lot of mini revelations. We looked at Firefly and asked ourselves why we liked it so much. It's because they are chosen family. It was fun to look at the stories with a fresh eye and look at the heart of the family relationship—and find the little gem that we wanted to share.

Did you include lessons from classic stories as well in Geek Parenting?

VL: Yes, we talk about classics and why they still resonate today. For example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If that was set in present day, the kids would have iPads or devices, and they wouldn't have explored because they'd be attached to their electronics. As a parent, I struggle with the balance of wanting your kids to be savvy with technology, but you also want them to have the space to be bored and come up with something creative and interesting. Had those children not had the time and space to do that, they would not have found the wardrobe. So some of the lessons involve looking at stories through a modern lens and thinking about what we can apply to life today.

SS: Remember the animated movie, The Secret of Nimh? The lesson is that when a timid mouse who is a mom needs to be a hero, she does it, because that's what moms do. We talk about that in Geek Parenting. Fantasy and science fiction stories are very applicable to talking to your children about the world. They tend to talk about the big questions regarding life and the universe. What is good, what is wrong? Why are we here? Who are we going to meet? What does success look like—

VL: How do you stand up for yourself? How do you stand up for other people when you see that a wrong is being done? It's important to learn those stories.

Geek Parenting-225As an adolescent, there are many opportunities to find role models in geek culture. But parents have far fewer resources of this type, even though they also go through a major life turning point when they reanalyze who they are.

SS: Yes, and we're trying to give parents fresh eyes with which to look at their old stories. When you read Dune the first time, you follow the story of Paul, because he's the protagonist? Going back and reading as an adult, Jessica's story means an awful lot more, because you realize that it's a tremendous tale of sacrifice. It's about that shift from putting her own desires and ambitions first, and there's a point at which it shifts, and she realizes that her life has centered about what her son needs to survive.

VL: Going back and looking at these stories from the parents' point of view, it's very rare that the parent is the protagonist. The parents are on the periphery. It was interesting to read or see them again and look more closely at the parents' role. Looking at Bewitched and focusing on Endora instead of Samantha, you see that Endora is a feminist. She's saying, "Don't pretend to be something you're not just to pacify your husband."

SS: As an adult, one reason why Terminator resonates so much is because Sarah Connor is one of those supermom heroes. Battlestar Galactica gets you in the heart because it's not just a story about politics—it's really more like the family dinner where you're arguing politics. It's one of the stories where the parent is the hero. The reason why the story keeps punching you in the feels over and over again is that almost every story arc on Battlestar Galactica comes down to the question, "Is Dad going to forgive the kids?" And though sometimes it takes a very long time, the answer is always yes.

Game of Thrones has some, ah, interesting parental figures. In fact, the show is almost all about the parents' machinations.

SS: Yes, we do have some lessons about them in the book. We have Cersei and Joffrey. And we have the Starks, too, illustrating a very specific lesson…which is how important it is for kids to have pets. [laughs]

So do you watch pop culture now through this new parental lesson filter?

VL: Yes, I do. I don't watch as many films or TV shows just because of time. But I'm more aware of it now.

SS: When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, our response was, "Oh, Kylo Ren is the object lesson that we're trying to prevent with this book."

What are you looking forward to seeing or reading coming up?

SS: As a Marvel kid, of course I'm looking forward to seeing Captain America: Civil War. Not in a profound way, though. [laughs]

VL: American Gods, on television.

SS: I'm looking forward to the movie they're going to make based on Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation. And I'm looking forward to the next Doctor Who series, though it's very far away.



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The Best Books of April: Biographies & Memoirs



Amazon Book Review: Kill 'Em and LeaveNot only was April packed with great books, it was ridiculously heavy in Biographies & Memoirs--in fact, fully half of our top 10 fit the category, including our spotlight pick (Augusten Burroughs's Lust & Wonder), as well as our debut pick (Lab Girl, which you can read more about here). But for me, the book of the month is Kill 'Em and Leave, an illuminating and sometimes harrowing journey into the world of James Brown from National Book Award winner James McBride. McBride has written a book about an essentially unknowable man, one so twisted up in myth (self-made and otherwise) and tabloid-ready disasters that a traditional biography might well become worthlessly, untruthfully lurid. Instead, Kill 'Em and Leave is less concerned with the biographical minutiae of Brown's life than it is with Brown's context; he is the central figure of the book, but rarely is he at its center. Like an astronomer might infer the existence of an invisible planet through the movements of its celestial neighbors, McBride takes an oblique approach, traveling deep into Brown's past to interview bandmates, managers, family members, and friends, applying his unique, propulsive voice and insight as a musician to illuminate the forces stacked against "The Godfather of Soul," and the ways it changed in his wake.

See more of the Best Biographies and Memoirs of the Month below, and browse all of our picks for March across 15 categories. 

 

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
On this book about plants and science and other things--friendship and passion and love, for ideas, for work and for all living beings--Amazon Editorial Director Sara Nelson wrote, "And if Jahren can surprise you about all that messy human stuff, just think how she can change your feelings about dirt."
 

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Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burroughs's latest autobiographical offering is a tale many of us can relate to: In our search for true love, we have kissed a few (perhaps dozen) frogs, and dated utterly inappropriate people because they were simply too cute to resist, or really good in... social situations. Lust & Wonder delivers on what you'd expect from the lauded author of Running with Scissors--the kind of wit, profundity, and keen appreciation of the absurd that tempers what could otherwise be cynical subject matter. --Erin Kodicek
 

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Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt
Women's history buffs rejoice! Wonderfully told and intrinsically captivating, this is the story about the elite group of women in the 40s and 50s who broke gender and science boundaries to transform rocket design and lay the groundwork for U.S. space travel. Not only did I geek out on the incredible look into the early days of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but I also fell in love with these women who quite possibly invented the pant suit, and were vital to America's space travel. --Penny Mann
 

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The Mathews Men by William Geroux
William Geroux has produced a well-constructed and meticulously researched account of the heroics performed and sacrifices endured by the merchant marine, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay county of Mathews, Virginia. As Geroux writes, "For more than 250 years, the profession of choice in Mathews had been sailing merchant ships." These men, including the Hodges family, which sent seven sons to war, performed an essential but underreported service for the country. If the cover reminds you of Unbroken or The Boys in the Boat, it should. This one deserves to be a best seller. --Chris Schluep
 

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Julia Elliott Named Shared Worlds' 2016 Amazon Writer-In-Residence



Julia-Elliott-Version-2-(003)Critically-acclaimed author and South Carolina native Julia Elliott has been named the Amazon Writer-in-Residence for Shared Worlds, the premier science-fiction and fantasy teen writing camp in North America. Amazon has awarded Shared Worlds an $18,000 grant for the 2016 camp, for the purpose of establishing an Amazon writer-in-residence and providing need- and talent-based scholarships for students from all over the world. Shared Worlds is based at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

Elliott's brilliant writing has appeared in Tin House, The Georgia Review, Conjunctions, The New York Times, Granta online, Electric Literature, and other publications. She has won a Rona Jaffe Writer's Award, and her stories have been anthologized in Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Best American Fantasy, and Best American Short Stories. Her debut story collection, The Wilds, was chosen by Kirkus, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and Electric Literature as one of the Best Books of 2014 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, arrived in October 2015.

FutchElliott says she's honored to be named the writer-in-residence and looking forward to teaching at Shared Worlds. "I'm particularly stoked about interacting with young writers at crucial stages of creative development. While I hope to help them shape and refine their world-building skills, I suspect that their enthusiasm and creativity will reinvigorate my own imagination, which has grown more sluggish over the years. I'm also excited about many of the program's features, including the awesome lineup of fellow writers."

Those writers include the award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, New York Times bestseller Tobias Buckell, and critically acclaimed novelists Leah Thomas, Terra Elan McVoy and Nathan Ballingrud. Hugo Award-winner Ann VanderMeer provides editorial resources and camp co-founder Jeff VanderMeer returns to talk about his bestselling and award-winning Southern Reach trilogy, including inside information on the movie versions from Paramount. Adding to the excitement, superstars Lev Grossman and Daniel Abraham will talk to the students via Skype about their writing and their respective SyFy television shows, The Magicians and The Expanse.

Elliott understands the importance of such programs to teenage creativity and ingenuity. "Although my nuclear family nourished my youthful oddities, I was the oft-teased weirdo in the South Carolina low-country town where I grew up. South Carolina can be hard on nonconforming teens…Arts programs that not only encourage creative development but also help teens form cultural identities that connect them to larger arts communities can give young people the skills and confidence to flourish." (For her, the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts provided that spark.)

"We hope our efforts help enrich the cultural life of the community as well," says Tim Schmitz, the director of summer programs at Wofford. "We love that our students pack the bookstore and auditorium for the writer readings and presentations—and that they display such a love of reading in general. Our literary partnership with Amazon helps us to expand our scope and be of even more use to the students."

As a native of the Carolinas, Elliott calls it "crucial" for creative people "to support progressive cultural hubs in North and South Carolina, particularly bookstores like Hub City in Spartanburg and Malaprops in Ashville, both of which have provided havens for marginalized groups and creative people in their respective regions."

For the many teens who have come from around the country to Shared Worlds the camp is a haven as well as a source of inspiration and practical encouragement. In the first week, the teens work in groups of 10 to 12 to build their own fantasy or science-fiction worlds. They have the help of classroom instructors from Wofford faculty as well as innovative lectures on biology, government, cartography, and many other topics. In the second week, with the help of the guest writers, the students write stories based in their worlds.

"We find that this approach really stimulates the imagination and gives the students a setting that's personal but not too personal," says camp founder Jeremy L.C. Jones. "They want to write stories in their worlds, and don't freeze up from their internal editor as they might otherwise do. It's also just fun. It's imaginative play of a very high order. It helps them not just in writing or gaming but in any career they might go into later on in life."

As for Elliott, her career has been very different from what she imagined when she won the Archibald Rutledge Scholarship for poetry in twelfth grade. "I assumed I'd be a world-famous writer by the time I hit the legal drinking age."

Instead, Elliott worked for almost two decades to get her first two books published. "Though publishing in journals and anthologies over the years gave me the validation I needed to keep going," she says, "I've scribbled in relative obscurity for half my life. Having two books come out over the past two years has been thrilling [though] I also find myself longing for the days when I wrote in a giddy bubble without obsessing over publishing, publicity, sales stats, and such. Though it's harder to reach that enchanted state of pure immersion when I'm writing (the happiest of mental states for me), I'm thankful that I can still manage it—and thankful to participate in programs like Shared Worlds."

Elliott will teach at Shared Worlds for a week, during which time she will do a bookstore reading, critique student manuscripts, and give a presentation entitled "Genre and Genre-bending." Her work and an extended interview will be spotlighted on the Shared Worlds site and in the 2016 Shared Worlds book of student writing.

Amazon grants have also been given to such worthy organizations as Lambda Literary, AWP, and One Story.



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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"There's Just You and the Bad Guy" - Katie Ruggle on Her New Romantic Suspense Novel



Katie Ruggle-2Katie Ruggle's new romantic suspense novel, Hold Your Breath, starts with heroine Lou Sparks landing in hot water—no, make that very cold water—as she trains for ice rescue in a frozen reservoir in Colorado. And then she finds a dead body in the reservoir.

The first in Ruggle's search-and-rescue series, Hold Your Breath combines suspense with humor as Lou and her rescue-squad boss, Callum, first spar and then team up to find the murderer. In the meantime, someone is targeting Lou. Is it the killer? Is it someone else with a grudge against her?

You know what to do. Read it and find out. But before you do, see what Katie Ruggle has to say about ice rescue, small towns, and crafting suspense in remote locations.

 

Amazon Book Review: Your heroine, Lou Sparks, has moved to an off-the-grid cabin in Colorado after leaving her more affluent life in Connecticut behind her. What about Lou and her fresh start do you think readers will find appealing?

Katie Ruggle: I imagine almost everyone has thought, at some time or another, "I hate my job/school/relationship/life. I'm running away to the mountains/beach/island/Cleveland." (Okay, maybe not the last one.) For most, these escape plans never get past the daydream stage, but Lou actually did it. She left life as she knew it behind and moved to a tiny, off-grid, scarily remote cabin. How wonderful and terrifying is that?

Lou admits to Callum in Hold Your Breath that she didn't even know how to light a fire before she arrived in Simpson. The only heat source in her cabin is her wood stove. In order to not freeze to death, she had to figure it out—fast. Lou's first winter in the mountains is a story of survival, of learning everything she needs to know in order to hold onto her newfound independence. Not only does she stay alive, but she thrives—and she never loses her sense of humor. I think readers will be drawn to Lou's courage and tenacity as she struggles not only to keep herself alive, but to help others as part of the rescue dive team.

Hold Your Breath opens with Lou going through ice-rescue training—and she uses that training later in a critical scene. You yourself have been certified in ice rescue. How often have you had to use that training in real life?

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately? That water is cold!), I haven't used the training as much as I'd have liked. After becoming certified, it started to snow…and snow and snow. I was living off-grid in the mountains at the time (although my system was not as bare-bones as Lou's; I'm a big believer in backup plans—and backup generators). As the wind howled and the snow hardened into rock-like drifts, I developed a new understanding of the term "cabin fever."

Several times, when the plow would finally, finally pass by my house, I was tempted to run out and wave down the driver, just so I could talk face-to-face with a real, live person. By exercising a huge amount of willpower, I managed to resist plow-chasing.

Since I was stuck in my house for weeks at a time, it was impossible to get to the fire station for training or to go on calls. Now that I'm in Minnesota, I'm planning to volunteer for the local fire department and dust off my ice-rescue skills as soon as I find a spare minute. With its multitude of lakes and the frigid winter temperatures, I'm thinking that Minnesota will offer plenty of opportunities for me to jump into cold water (um…yay?).

Hold Your Breath-25Lou and Callum seem to have an opposites-attract relationship, but they're both committed to helping others. What else do they have in common that gives their romance a solid foundation?

Despite their differences regarding, say, the cleanliness of their pickups or their window-blind-hanging techniques, Lou and Callum respect each other. They are both smart, courageous, strong people, and they know that these positive traits are what matter. The little things—like Lou's chaos-causing tendencies or Cal's insistence on arranging the firewood in a very specific, very orderly way—are insignificant—endearing, even. They truly like one another, and that's a pretty sturdy foundation for a relationship.

The details of the murder aren't resolved by the end of Hold Your Breath, so clearly we're going to return to Colorado to find out more. Whose story is next in the series, or will you continue to explore the evolution of Lou and Callum's relationship in the next book?

Although Lou and Callum show up quite a bit in Fan the Flames, the second book in the series, they won't be the main players. Firefighter and MC member Ian, along with gun-shop owner Rory, will take center stage in this one. Doing research on this book was a blast (ha! Please excuse my unintentional pun); my inner gun nerd had such a great time.

What aspects of a small town in the Rockies made it the perfect setting for your search-and-rescue series?

I love writing about small towns. There's something so comforting—yet claustrophobic—about places where everyone knows everyone else's business. The setting plays a huge part in building suspense, too. After I moved to the Colorado Rockies, it took me a while to truly understand the meaning of the word "remote." In the city where I'd previously been living, the average response time for first responders (police, ambulance or firefighters) was six minutes. In my new mountain home, it was seventeen—and that was on a good day. When there was a blizzard and/or icy roads and/or closed mountain passes and/or a herd of bighorn sheep hanging out on the highway, this response time could be stretched even longer.

It's scary enough to hear someone trying to break into your home when you're in the middle of civilization. You can call 9-1-1, and the police will be there in a handful of minutes. You can scream, and your more helpful and/or nosy neighbors will be there in seconds. Help is close and plentiful.

But what if you're alone in a mountain cabin with a bad guy at the door? You try to call, but there's no cell reception. You scream, but only the burglar and the coyotes can hear you. There's no help. There's just you—and the bad guy.

Scary, right? And that's why it's a perfect setting for a romantic suspense.

What have you read lately that you've been recommending to friends or other readers?

With trying to squeeze writing and editing into the small window between a night baking job and sleep, I've sadly fallen behind in my reading. However, I did manage to cram in The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata. After staying up all day reading, I was a bread-making zombie the next night, but the book was totally worth the sleep deprivation. I love her characters so very much.

 

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I Hope You're Hungry--2016 James Beard Award Winners



ZahavGuys200From a mouth-watering list of semi-finalists, the winners of the 2016 James Beard cookbook awards have been announced. 

It was exciting to see some of our own favorite cookbooks take home the prize, including Cookbook of the Year, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, pictured here at the awards ceremony last night.  I couldn't be more thrilled for them--after meeting the duo for lunch last summer we left trying to decide if we loved the cookbook or it's authors more (a definite tie...). 

So without further ado, here are some* other medal-winning cookbooks to add to your shelf (if they aren't there already):

 *for a complete list of 2016 Book, Broadcast, & Journalism winners, visit the James Beard Foundation

 

 

BeetlebungFarmAmerican Cooking WINNER

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook

By Chris Fischer with Catherine Young

 

 

 

  Sourdough200Baking and Dessert WINNER

Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More

By Sarah Owens

 

 

   FoodLab200General Cooking WINNER

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

By J. Kenji López-Alt

 

 

  Zahav200International Cooking WINNER

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking 

By Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook

 

 

 

  VforVegetablesVegetable Focused and Vegetarian WINNER

V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks

By Michael Anthony

 

 

  LightenUpFocus on Health WINNER

Lighten Up, Y'all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome 

By Virginia Willis

 

 

   OxfordWineBeverage WINNER

The Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding

 

 

 

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 Hugo Award Finalists Are Revealed



Hugo AwardLast year's Hugo Award nominations set off an explosion of controversy in the science fiction and fantasy world. One group's attempt to dominate the 2015 nominations was a success, leading some finalists to withdraw their names from consideration. Turmoil roiled the community in the months between the announcement of the finalists and the final vote in the summer. In the end, most categories received an overwhelming number of "no award" votes by members in protest of the finalist slate--plus members declared a renewed commitment to voting for their desired candidates for the 2016 nominations.

Now the 2016 award nominations are in. Last year, 2,122 ballots were received for the Hugo nominations. This year 4,032 ballots were received for Hugo nominations, breaking all previous records.

A selection of the categories is below, as well as the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Congratulations to all the finalists.

 

BEST NOVEL

 

BEST NOVELLA

 

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

  • The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
  • Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell
  • Full Frontal Nerdity  by Aaron Williams
  • Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman
  • The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III

 

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

  • Pierce Brown *
  • Sebastien de Castell *
  • Brian Niemeier
  • Andy Weir *
  • Alyssa Wong *
  • Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

 

The full list of finalist categories can be found here.

 


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And the Winner of the Shakespeare Character Duel Is...



And the winner isLast week sixteen brave, tough, and sometimes insane Shakespeare characters faced off against each other to determine who would be the ultimate champion. Some battles were lopsided, such as the duel between Richard III and Aaron, in which the killer king took down the murderous plotter from Titus Andronicus in a few swift moves. More battles were tightly fought, with the challengers tangling until the last few minutes--like the brawl between Puck and the Weird Sisters in round one.

The final duel between Hamlet (Hamlet) and Kate (The Taming of the Shrew) began as an even matchup as the two contestants feinted and parried with both words and weapons. As the battle progressed, Kate slowly but surely drew ahead. Perhaps her years of verbal swordplay led extra strength to her blows. Perhaps Hamlet's early death robbed him of the expertise needed to get the upper hand. Or, as you can see from Kate's expression below, she had a lot--a LOT--of anger powering her when anyone else's energy would have flagged.

Kate-180In the last half of the bout, Kate hammered Hamlet over and over again. When the bell rang, the champion of the Bracket of Clever Words stood triumphant over the champion of the Bracket of Death.

 

 

 

  KateVHamlet-results

Thanks to everyone who voted in our latest book duel, and enormous thanks to Kill Shakespeare creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery for developing the brackets of this book duel and allowing us to use their great art!


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Anthony Bourdain: How to Be Gorgeous, Self-Indulgent, and Off the Wall



Appetites200Anthony Bourdain--outspoken chef, world traveler, and a man in possession of great humor and his first cookbook in a decade. Appetites: A Cookbook comes out this fall (October 25) with a cover designed by one of Bourdain's heroes, Ralph Steadman. 

Last time Bourdain was in town we talked about how he came to love Steadman's art as a young man, what he wants to accomplish with his cookbook, and the inspiration for a couple of really amazing tattoos he'd just gotten. You can hear all this in the video interview below (and see the tats, of course), along with his thoughts on food trends that should carry on or die.

 


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Monday, April 25, 2016

Cops and Robbers and Architects: A Burglar's Guide to the City



Amazon Book Review: A Burglar's Guide to the CityGeoff Manaugh's A Burglar's Guide to the City is a caper of a book. On one hand, he presents a 2,000-year history of break-ins, heists, and break-outs--a litany of unlikely, bent geniuses and their extraordinary efforts in the service of subverting and outwitting security, their energy often exceeding the requirements of straight-world success. On another, Manaugh draws on the real-world experience and acumen of criminals and security experts alike--as well as his own esoteric architectural sensibility, as seen in his fascinating BLDGBLOG--analyzing structures from the perspectives of would-be breakers-and-enterers--those possessed of a sort of spatial disorder that prevents them from using architecture like the rest of us--and those who would keep them out. Unexpected and engrossing, A Burglar's Guide to the City will change the way you look at buildings.

Manaugh answered a few questions about A Burglar's Guide to the City, which we selected as a Best Book of the Month for April, 2016.

Amazon Book Review: Why did you choose to examine architecture from the criminal's perspective? What insights does this approach reveal that more traditional vectors do not?

Geoff Manaugh: The question of how something can be misused is always worth considering, whether you're talking about everyday products (such as spray paint) or something much more abstract (like nuclear physics). But now scale this up to the level of architecture—or even to an entire metropolis—and the question of how you can misuse the city reveals all sorts of overlooked details in the buildings all around us.

For example, looking at your neighborhood or at a specific apartment complex through the eyes of a burglar can reveal new places to hide, ways into and out of a building, and even potential getaway routes that you otherwise might not have seen. You can even notice things like how the city's freeways or its underground infrastructure might be used to help commit—or get away from—a crime.

More importantly, though, this sort of approach also gives you the ability to address and fix those vulnerabilities—to patch them up—or to shine light in those blind spots, you might say.

ABR: You point out the differences between burglary vs. such crimes such as theft and trespassing—terms that many would consider interchangeable. What's the difference, and what does that dichotomy imply?

GM: Burglary is especially interesting from an architectural point of view. As a crime, burglary actually requires buildings: you have to be inside a legally recognized structure for burglary to occur. This immediately opens up a long, often very bizarre conversation about what a legally recognized building can be. Is a telephone booth a building, or a houseboat, or a mine? As it happens, in many U.S. states, the answer is yes.

Here's why that matters. To talk about burglary means to talk about where interiors end and the outside world begins. It means talking about the tools someone can use to access architecture without using keys. It means talking about methods of entry—like cutting holes through roofs and walls, or tunneling up from the sewers—that a burglar might use, rather than just walking in through the front door.

Burglary, taken to these extremes, is about rethinking the city and how human beings move through it. It's about a fundamentally different approach to architecture.

ABR: You describe burglars as almost suffering from a spatial disorder where it comes to architecture and civic design. How does the mind of a burglar differ from normal architecture users? How does it affect the way they interact with structures?

GM: Well, the flipside to all this, of course, is that burglars aren't always the world's brightest people! I joke in the book that their apparent inability to use the front door—instead, coming down through an elevator shaft or crawling in through the building's ventilation network—might actually be neurological, a spatial disorder, a kind of burglars' syndrome. It's as if there are people out there who just can't use hallways or doors the way they're supposed to.

ABR: As security technology progresses, what sort of countermeasures can we expect from those who mean to subvert architectural security?

GM: This whole battle between cops and robbers is basically an arms race, a constant back-and-forth between one side and the other. You can see this in the tools criminals use to enter buildings or open vaults. These include everything from lock picks to so-called "burning bars." There's a really wide range there, in terms of technical ingenuity and sheer, brute-force power.

It's also an interesting mix of high-tech and lo-fi. Suspects fleeing LAPD helicopters are starting to use thermal camouflage to evade infrared cameras, while other burglars—like the ones who committed an infamous diamond heist in Antwerp—will just use electrical tape and hairspray to thwart a million-dollar security system.

ABR: Does geography and urban planning influence the types of crime prevalent in a given city? In what ways?

GM: Absolutely. In Los Angeles, for example, there is the idea of the "stop and rob": a business at the bottom of both an off-ramp and an on-ramp for the city's freeways. This means that a prospective criminal can pull off the freeway literally to stop and rob. While this helped lead to a spike in bank-crime numbers in the 1980s and 90s, you can also see it as an unanticipated side effect of the city's transportation infrastructure.

ABR: Is the relationship between burglars and architecture purely contentious, or could it be considered somewhat symbiotic?

It's definitely a bit of both—however, I think the symbiosis between them is more interesting to talk about. The legal nature of burglary makes this clear: without buildings, there are no burglars. Burglars are intertwined, in their very definition, with the built environment, coiled there like snakes.

ABR: Does architecture simply aim to repel burglars, or are there examples of ingenious alternatives designed to thwart invaders?

GM: One of my favorite examples of defensive architecture actually comes from Rajasthan, in India. My wife and I were traveling there a few years ago with some architecture students, and we visited a palace called Mehrangarh. Not only is it an absolutely spectacular place to visit, if you're interested in architecture, but it had this great security detail.

At the very end of the long approach road that ramps up to the gate of the inner palace, the door itself is turned 90-degrees so that you don't walk straight to it. Of course, this means that you can't see the gate as you approach, but it also means invading armies—specifically ones with charging elephants—wouldn't have been able to attain enough speed to ram the door. There literally would not have been enough space for them to maneuver or to gain speed for bursting the gate.

This is actually very similar to advice you see for older bank security design, where it was recommended that you make certain hallways sufficiently narrow that certain burglary tools can't physically be used there. The tools would need more space to operate than the hallway would allow.

So it's not charging elephants, of course! But it's still interesting to see how these sorts of approaches to spatial security resonate across centuries and continents.

 


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Final Shakespeare Character Duel - Hamlet vs. Kate!



Amazon Book ReviewThe final duel pits Hamlet against Kate in a battle not to be missed! Vote at the end of the post to determine who will win - the mad prince of Denmark or the fiery shrew of Padua.

The last round matched Death against Villain and Magic against Clever Words. The bracket finalists were well matched, and neither bout was decided with a knockout blow. Prospero tripped himself up by prevaricating between using magic or his wits, and Kate's far wittier tongue pounded his ego into submission. Hamlet's years among the vipers of court helped him ignore Iago's feints and recognize his true attacks. Hamlet finally tricked Iago into admitting defeat.

Final four results

 

 

 

Now Hamlet and Kate face off. Who will win? You decide!

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Our huge thanks to Kill Shakespeare creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery for developing the brackets of this book duel and allowing us to use their great art!


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